Battle Creek — Top-ranked Mendon successfully defended its Division 4 state volleyball championship Saturday morning at Kellogg Arena with an impressive 25-17, 25-19, 27-29, 25-14 victory over No. 5 Leland.
Mendon's 5-foot-9 junior outside hitter Anna Smith put on an outstanding all-around performance of putting the ball down with authority while also showing her ability to block, serve and keep the ball alive with her strong defense.
Smith, who will be a front-runner for Miss Volleyball next season, had a match-high 22 kills (.386 hitting percentage), 13 digs and four aces while having plenty of support from her teammates, including senior middle blocker Taylor Heitkamp (12 kills, .385 hitting percentage), junior middle blocker Andrea Hoffman (six kills), senior defensive specialist Juliana Hagenbuch (19 digs), sophomore defensive specialist Isabella Smith (12 digs) and senior setter Gracie Russell (41 assists).
“She can score at will against our team, against any team since I haven’t seen any team shut her down,” said Leland coach Laurie Glass of Smith, who is a College of Charleston commit. “She has all the shots. She gets up there and she sees tips, she sees corners, she sees the lines, she sees the cross, and then she makes a real good save to keep them in the third set. She’s super talented and it’s unfortunate for us that she’s a junior and will be returning next year.”
Yes, when it looked like Leland would walk away with a third-set win, leading 24-21 with Gillian Grobbel serving, Smith made an incredible dig to keep the point alive and her teammate got a kill to pull within 24-22. Mendon actually held a 25-24 lead before falling 29-27 to force a fourth set.
Mendon (40-9-6) had a strong showing, hitting at a .289 clip and blocking at a high level to leave no doubt as the supreme power in Class D/Division 4. Plymouth Christian won consecutive Class D titles in 2016 and ’17 and Leland won in 2015. Battle Creek St. Philip won nine straight state titles (2007-14).
“I thought that our offense became predictable, which allowed them to camp out on us because they knew what we were doing,” Glass said. “Some of our bad passing early on dictated what we were running so they could go out there and move the blockers, so I thought they did a nice job.”
And, while Smith, Hoffman and several other players return for Mendon, Leland (44-14-3) returns all but Grobbel who had 13 kills. Tatum Kareck had a team-high 15 kills for Leland while Olivia Lowe had 11 kills and setter Jana Molby, 37 assists.
“Coming out in warmups I thought, ‘We’re finally back,’ since we had a couple of rough games (in prior postseason matches),” Mendon coach Heather Bowers said. “I could tell that we were on, that it was flowing well and then they started strong and didn’t let up until that third game when we kind of relaxed a little bit.
“It was very important (to get early lead) because they wanted to get us this year, so we knew we had to get on top of them right away. I can’t say how proud I am of them because it was a completely different group, a completely different dynamic, but with the same work ethic and the same drive and the same will to win.”
Heitkamp didn’t play on the big stage last year, making this year’s title run a memorable one.
“It was really special,” Heitkamp said. “I came in hoping that this would be the best game that I’ve ever played, and I felt like I executed well. This was my last game so leave it on the court.”